Whether on land or at sea, dining has become increasingly more important to the overall travel experience. Certain cruise lines, in particular, are scaling up their food and beverage offerings in an effort to capitalize on this trend.
Thanks to a renewed focus on quality, variety, value, and convenience, whether your client is a self-proclaimed “foodie” or just someone who craves a good dining experience, passengers are benefitting from the competition taking place in the food and beverage cruise world. While change is afoot universally, some lines are even outpacing their cohorts.
For example, one food and beverage director of a trend-setting cruise line recently summed up their new approach, “The whole cruise food experience has been re-imagined so that dining onboard feels more like being on your favorite block in New York City than being on a ship. You have diverse food experiences awaiting you, you hop in when you feel like it (no set times), are invited into themed environments, and are offered rock star meal service.”
Quality Reigns Supreme
Bringing city-like eating to sea and throwing out the traditional cruise dining book has caught the attention of travelers who typically seek out the best dining spots around the world when onshore. In addition to delicious food, passengers are responding to new energy around the dining experience. They have also raised their expectations, and according to travel advisors, are drawn to the ships that have award-winning chefs and cuisine.
Karen Krugliak, owner and manager of Brit Olom Tours in Miami, noted that dining excellence can be a game-changer when considering options. “The more affluent client places dining at the top of their list when considering a cruise. And they will opt for another vessel if the quality isn’t there.”
With a made-to-order philosophy around food, the cruise lines that are winning are those that never sacrifice quality, whether it’s just for a quick bite or a formal three-course meal.
“When you dine with friends or a loved one it should be a memorable experience,” said Rosemary Martinek, a luxury travel specialist with Cruise Planners in Destin, Florida. “Whether you are a foodie like me or not, it should entice all your senses. My palate is looking for an eating experience and Michelin-star chef-inspired restaurants is exactly what I, a foodie, will look for.”
Inclusivity Equals Value
Given that most cruise lines typically require an upcharge for specialty dining, those that don’t are particularly catching the eye of advisors and their clients alike. Being able to dine at up to twenty distinct eateries onboard a ship, for example, is a forward-looking policy that could be the wave of the future for cruise lines ... or simply reserved for just some.
Krugliak is excited about being able to provide a plethora of choices to her clients that are all included in the price. “Dining is one of the things that is most important when going on a cruise and people do not like being nickeled and dimed at every stop, my clients especially!”
Variety is the Spice of Life
Gone are the days of mass meal distribution and buffets aboard some cruise ships. And in its place has emerged cruise ships that are offering up distinctive specialty eateries, with cuisine ranging from the flavors of Korean BBQ and Mediterranean to Mexican and vegetarian.
“Variety is the spice of life and trying new tastes is life-changing,” said Martinek. “Fresh ingredients is the buzzword of today.”
As food preferences continue to evolve, certain trends like “gluten-free” and “vegetarian” need to be addressed in thoughtful ways, according to advisors. Vegetarians and vegans, for example, until recently, often had to agree to the “chicken salad without the chicken” but are now being met with diverse and delicious options.
“When clients come to me for a cruise, one of the first questions they ask is ‘how is the food?’ People don’t want the big halls where the choices are chicken, steak, or fish ... they want variety,” said Valerie Gossett, CEO, and president of Premier Resources Travel Group based in Ellijay, Georgia.
Dave Fowlie, owner/travel designer at Cruise Planners in San Diego, said a client wanted to take the time recently to talk about all the different restaurants on a ship. “People’s tastes for variety and quality are growing over time. They want something extra-special and more niche-type foods. Some lines are responding and stepping up their food game to meet that challenge.”
Convenience is Key to the Experience
Eating when you want and where you want has more appeal than ever before when it comes to cruising. Across the board, travel advisors are reporting that flexible dining is the preferred option these days, as more travelers step away from the rigid parameters of an early or late seating time.
“Anytime Dining is my most popular request now. They can eat anytime they want, wherever they want and they aren’t locked into the same table every night,” said Fowlie.
When it comes to flexible dining, Martinek sums it up well. “It is important to pick a cruise that fits your lifestyle. Do you want great food but not be restricted to a time to dine? I like the flexibility to go and experience when I am hungry and not when I am told to eat.”
From quality and value to variety and convenience, catering to today’s travelers is clearly at the forefront of the sea of change coming to cruise dining.
FROM THE SPONSOR:
Virgin Voyages is a new lifestyle travel brand focused on delivering irresistible cruise vacations. The brand currently has two ships on order with master shipbuilder Fincantieri and has operations in the US, UK and across Europe. Virgin Voyages’ first ship, Scarlet Lady was designed to reflect a yacht’s sleek luxury, offering the intimate, elevated experience of a boutique hotel at sea. Featuring spaces designed by some of the top names in contemporary interiors, Scarlet Lady is Adult-by-Design and a sanctuary at sea for the 18+ traveler. A dose of Vitamin Sea will be naturally intertwined across the entire ship, with well-being, relaxation and rejuvenation at the forefront. Scarlet Lady will also feature alluring entertainment and 20+ world-class intimate eateries on board. With a modern twist on luxury, coupled with discerning design, Virgin Voyages offers incredible value for its sailors, including unlimited access to all restaurants and eateries, group fitness classes, free WiFi and tips covered in the voyage fare.
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